Vedanta n : (from the Sanskrit for `end of the Veda') one of six orthodox philosophical systems or viewpoints rooted in the Upanishads as opposed to Mimamsa which relies on the Vedas and Brahmanas
Vedanta (Devanagari: , ) is a spiritual tradition within Hinduism that is elucidated and explained in the Upanishads and is, like those manuscripts, concerned with the self-realisation by which one understands the ultimate nature of reality (Brahman). Vedanta which implies "the end of all knowledge" - by definition is not restricted or confined to one book and there is no sole source for Vedantic philosophy. Vedanta is based on immutable spritual laws that are common to religions and spiritual traditions worldwide. Vedanta as the end of knowledge refers to a state of self-realisation, attainment, or cosmic consciousness. Historically and currently Vedanta is understood as a state of transcendence and not as a concept that can be grasped by the intellect alone.
The word Vedanta is a Sanskrit compound word which can be treated as:
- veda = "knowledge" + anta = "end, conclusion": "the culmination of knowledge" or "appendix to the Veda"
- veda = "knowledge" + anta = "essence", "core", or "inside": "the essence of the Vedas".
HistoryWhile the traditional Vedic Karma kānda, or ritualistic components of religion, continued to be practiced through the Brahmins as meditative and propitiatory rites to guide society to self-knowledge, more jnana (gnosis)- or knowledge-centered understandings began to emerge. These are mystical streams of Vedic religion that focused on meditation, self-discipline and spiritual connectivity rather than on rituals.
Etymologically, veda means "knowledge" and anta means "end", so the literal meaning of the term "Vedānta" is "the end of knowledge" or "the ultimate knowledge" or "matter appended to the Veda". In earlier writings, Sanskrit 'Vedānta' simply referred to the Upanishads, the most speculative and philosophical of the Vedic texts. However, in the medieval period of Hinduism, the word Vedanta came to mean the school of philosophy that interpreted the Upanishads. Traditional Vedanta considers scriptural evidence, or shabda pramana, as the most authentic means of knowledge, while perception, or pratyakssa, and logical inference, or anumana, are considered to be subordinate (but valid).
FormalizationThe systematization of Vedantic ideas into one coherent treatise was undertaken by Badarayana in the Vedanta Sutra(200 B.C.) Scholars know the Vedānta-sūtra by a variety of names, including (1) Brahma-sūtra, (2) Śārīraka, (3) Vyāsa-sūtra, (4) Bādarāyaṇa-sūtra, (5) Uttara-mīmāṁsā and (6) Vedānta-darśana. The cryptic aphorisms of the Vedanta Sutras are open to a variety of interpretations, resulting in the formation of numerous Vedanta schools, each interpreting the texts in its own way and producing its own sub-commentaries claiming to be faithful to the original. Consistent throughout Vedanta, however, is the exhortation that ritual be eschewed in favor of the individual's quest for truth through meditation governed by a loving morality, secure in the knowledge that infinite bliss awaits the seeker. Nearly all existing sects of Hinduism are directly or indirectly influenced by the thought systems developed by Vedantic thinkers. Hinduism to a great extent owes its survival to the formation of the coherent and logically advanced systems of Vedanta.
Source textsAll forms of Vedanta are drawn primarily from the Upanishads, a set of philosophical and instructive Vedic scriptures, which deal mainly with forms of meditation. "The Upanishads are commentaries on the Vedas, their putative end and essence, and thus known as Vedānta or "End of the Veda". They are considered the fundamental essence of all the Vedas and although they form the backbone of Vedanta, portions of Vedantic thought are also derived from some of the earlier Aranyakas.
The primary philosophy captured in the Upanishads, that of one absolute reality termed as Brahman is the main principle of Vedanta. The sage Vyasa was one of the major proponents of this philosophy and author of the Brahma Sūtras based on the Upanishads. The concept of Brahman – the Supreme Spirit or the eternal, self existent, immanent and transcedent Supreme and Ultimate Reality which is the divine ground of all Being - is central to most schools of Vedānta. The concept of God or Ishvara is also there, and the Vedantic sub-schools differ mainly in how they identify God with Brahman.
The contents of the Upanishads are often couched in enigmatic language, which has left them open to various interpretetions. Over a period of time, several scholars have interpreted the writings in Upanishads and other scriptures like Brahma Sutras according to their own understanding and the need of their time. There are a total of six important interpretations of these source texts, out of which, three (Advaita Vedanta, Vishishtadvaita and Dvaita) are prominent, both in India and abroad. These Vedantic schools of thought were founded by Shri Adi Shankara, Shri Ramanuja and Shri Madhvacharya, respectively. It should be noted, however, that the Indian pre-Shankara Buddhist writer Bhavya in the Madhyamakahrdaya Karika describes the Vedanta philosophy as "Bhedabheda". Proponents of other Vedantic schools continue to write and develop their ideas as well, although their works are not widely known outside of smaller circles of followers in India.
While it is not typically thought of as a purely Vedantic text, the Bhagavad Gita has played a strong role in Vedantic thought, what with its representative syncretism of Samkhya, Yoga, and Upanishadic thought. Indeed, it is itself called an "upanishad" and thus, all major Vedantic teachers (like Shankara, Ramanuja, and Madhvacharya) have taken it upon themselves to compose often extensive commentaries not only on the Upanishads and Brahma Sutras, but also on the Gita. In such a manner, Vedantists both old and new have implicitly attested to the Gita's importance to the development of Vedantic thought and practice.